Bowers & Wilkins – Company Profile and Signature 801 D4 Review
Review samples supplied by Bowers & Wilkins
Retail prices in the NL (incl. 21% VAT):
801 D4 Signature: 50.000 euro per pair
805 D4 Signature: 12.000 euro per pair
Originally, I had intended to limit this review just to a listening impression of the new 801 D4 Signature. However, during my visit to Bowers & Wilkins in Eindhoven, I was provided with such a wealth of information that I felt I could not merely focus on the review and keep all the extra info to myself. As a result, what you can read below is a bit of Company History, a Factory Tour, and of course, a Listening Impression of the 801 D4 Signature.
A little over 3 months ago, I received an invitation to a multi-pronged press event. The list included a Denon/Bowers & Wilkins Home Cinema demo, a Custom Installation audio/video demo, a general Product Portfolio lineup introduction, and, particularly relevant to this review, a not-further-described sneak peek of a new product.
Honestly, I did not think much about it until I received a phone call from Channel Marketeer Nico Bierhoff. He suggested that, given my prior interest in the 801 D4, he would urge me to come to the presentation. As all was still under wraps, he could not tell me much, only that the Sneak Peek would be of a very substantial product and that he was sure I would find it interesting. Well, that certainly whetted the appetite!
The invitation was accepted and as time passed, I speculated what would be the new product. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense but I never would have guessed it. As the event came closer, I was informed that we would not be allowed to take photos and that an NDA would have to be signed before being allowed in the room to see the sneak peek. I quickly checked the small print to see if I wasn’t handing over my soul or the rights to all future reviews but all was clear and simple, and of course, after a lot of joking, all the available press signed the same form in eager anticipation.
The Bowers & Wilkins main hall contains a very nice display of classic Denon, Marantz, and Classé gear.
The 9.4.4 Home Cinema demo was quite impressive and it was amazing how the Denon AVR-A1H, AKA “The Beast”, drove all those Bowers & Wilkins 700 s3 series speakers at very high levels with superb solidity and perfect clarity. At times, I picked up that the sound was a little too bright or aggressive for some and it was suggested that a Marantz Home Cinema counterpart would be more ideal for these people. For me, it was just a bit too loud but otherwise, I was very happy with the neutrality and transparency. So I guess, when it comes to surround sound, I am more of a Denon person than a Marantz person.
The CI demo, while of course not at the same level as the big system, was still impressive as the sound was not just decent but actually really great and certainly far better than anyone could reasonably expect from a flat built-in system.
Next was a Product Portfolio update for Marantz and Denon and it was interesting to see how the brands make use of common electronic components where desirable or economical, and where they clearly differ, in order to maintain their two respective “House Sounds”. Interestingly, all models were opened up to cater to our journalistic inspection and the gentlemen were more than happy to answer all our questions.
One important question that came up is how Denon and Marantz implement their individual character. As it turns out, the two companies have their own sound-shaping engineers who are responsible for the tuning, not unlike what Ken Ishiwata did for Marantz. The areas in which the sound is shaped are predominantly the DAC and output stages. Certainly, in the higher class components, the two brands shared virtually no similarities.
Naturally, the best was saved for last. As we were led into the main audio room, we were greeted by highly knowledgeable and super-friendly Senior Sound Engineer Rainer Finck. He explained that we were about to hear the Signature version of the 801 D4 that was set up in place of the “regular” D4, now in a gorgeous blue so deep that it appeared as black in the dimly lit room. It wasn’t until Rainer mentioned the Midnight Blue Metallic color and used his phone’s flashlight to demonstrate this that we noticed. Unlike in some of the official photos, the color is very subtle in real life, more black than blue, and rather reactive to flash photography and ambient lighting. Classy, absolutely very classy.
For this Sneak Peek, there was not yet any official technical information but Rainer did provide a few highlights and mentioned that he had for quite some time been involved with a team of Engineers in the UK while they were working on optimizing and refining the 801 D4. During this time, many facets of the speaker had been overhauled, including substantial physical changes right down to subtle but labor-intensive adjustments such as tweaking the crossover by ear using bypass capacitors.
Fast-forward to the recent present, when Nico was again in touch, now to arrange a private demo for myself and Werner Ero in which the 801 D4 was directly compared to the 801 D4 Signature. This time, there was an abundance of technical info and the gentlemen even prepared two nice PowerPoint presentations which were both rather animatingly presented by Ronald Dijkstra, Premium Brand Activator, and great storyteller. Below, I will share a few highlights from these presentations.
Ronald Dijkstra pointed out that the dust cap also functions as a damper for resonances.
What follows is a Factory Tour, a little company history, and an overview of the past Signature models. By all means, keep scrolling if you’re interested. Alternatively, you can use the links below to jump to the Signature 801 D4 sections.
Just a few highlights from the company’s 57-year-long history: DM5, Signature 30, DM7, DM6 (nick-named “Kangaroo”), a model that I am not familiar with, and just a slice of what looks like an 802 Matrix model.
For Bowers & Wilkins, the goal has always been to reduce distortion. To that end, many different techniques have been tried, even the combination of a traditional dynamic woofer with an electrostatic panel in the shape of the DM70 (see below).
Below is another beautiful oddity from Bowers & Wilkins’ past: the Emphasis. I’ve heard this model play in combination with Sphinx electronics and I still recall how rich and sweet these speakers sounded.
Above are multiple batches of low-frequency drivers, ready to be fitted to loudspeakers. To aid production-line efficiency, the chassis for the Signature model is black, rather than raw metal: this helps identify the superior specification of the unit to the team on the Final Product assembly line.
Shown above are the interlaced thin layers of plywood that are at the very basis of all the curved cabinets.
What I never knew before seeing this presentation is that the layers of plywood are stacked alternately with a solid and dry sheet of what looks like a piece of paper but which is in fact dry glue. Only when applying heat and pressure does the glue liquify and all the layers will be bonded.
Above is the result of the pressing procedure. The edges still look rough and uneven but they’re oversized on purpose so that any excess material can later be machined away.
Above is the Matrix skeleton structure and the aluminum front panel, bonded not only with screws but also glued together.
A finished cabinet, ready for further assembly.
Next: Factory Tour continued